Revelation 2:7b

Sermon preached on June 12, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

A few years ago Heather had a computer that died. By the time it died it was so old that it wasn't worth fixing. But one of the problems was that her backup drive died at exactly the same time and that meant that she lost some files. She was especially disappointed that she lost some songs she had purchased from iTunes. I told her that she could contact Apple and they might let her re-download the songs, because I've heard that sometimes they let you do that, but she never bothered. A few days ago I saw her Facebook status was,

"So soon Apple will allow me to get back all the iTunes songs I lost when my old computer died... #winning"

Last week Apple made an announcement that they're going to put all the songs you've purchased in the 'cloud' and you can download them on any Apple device you own, computer, iPhone or iPad. So Heather was happy about that. But what intrigued me about her post was the Twitter tag, #winning. I asked her about it and she said she thought it started with Charlie Sheen and the very public meltdown he had awhile ago. Apparently he considers himself a winner and he wins at things and he repeated this ad nauseam during his meltdown. So other people picked it up and now when something good happens to you, you can tweet about it and tag it as 'winning'. I think it's meant to be a humorous unspoken reference to Charlie Sheen.

Very often it's good to win at things. But I've never really liked the sports expression,

"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

I don't like it because, in sports, there are much more important things than winning. I actually like the counterpoint saying much more. It says, it's

"not that you won or lost but how you played the game…"

Good sportsmanship, showing good character, taking a loss with grace—although such things are not often recognized as such—they are much more important than winning.

But when it comes to your Christian walk, your Christian life, the work of the church—what the Holy Spirit tells us here is that winning is the only thing, it's what God wants us to do. Of course winning consists of not only coming out the victor, but what determines if you're the victor is how you live. Winning consists of living your life correctly and at the end of the trial—coming out successfully. God wants you to be successful in resisting temptation. He wants you to be say no to sin. He wants you not to fail when it comes to showing love to others. Jesus wants you to be successful in being able to tell truth from falsehood. He wants you to be a successful witness to the world. You are to do a good job in clearly presenting the gospel to others and showing them the power of the gospel in your life. He wants these things for you. The message to the Ephesian church ends with these words, (Revelation 2:7)

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit
says to the churches. To him who overcomes,
I will give the right to eat from the tree of life,
which is in the paradise of God."

The great truth that we see here is that

you Christians are to be conquerors.

You are to win in the Christian life. The phrase, "to him who overcomes' could also be translated,

"To the one who conquers…"

That's how the ESV has it. The Holman Christian Standard Bible renders it,

"I will give the victor…"

The Greek word refers to victory, to success. It refers to overcoming opposition, to conquering. One of the Greek lexicons (BDAG) says that this word means,

"to win in the face of obstacles, be victor, conquer, overcome, prevail…"

It's used in 1 John 5:4 where the apostle wrote,

"for everyone born of God overcomes the world."

But how are we to conquer? What does it mean in practical terms? It's obvious from the context that

conquering means to be successful in doing the tasks that the Lord gives us—being successful in resisting temptation, being successful in holding on to the truth of the gospel in the face of persecution, being successful in repenting of sins such as lack of love.

It's noteworthy that this word 'overcome' or 'conquer' is used in the messages to all the seven churches. The closing of each of the letters to the seven churches has this word. The phrasing may be a little different, but the thought is the same. The letter to Ephesus and the letter to Pergamum have, 'To him who overcomes'. The other five letters have, 'He who overcomes'. The point is the same. In the letters to the seven churches, we see the Christians in the churches facing various situations and temptations. The church at Ephesus needed to start practicing love like they had done at first. The church at Smyrna faced slander and persecution, the threat of imprisonment and death—they were to hold on to the truth of the gospel in spite of such threats. The church needed to be able to tell the truth of the gospel from the false teachings of the heretics. The church at Pergamum was tempted by idolatry and sexual immorality which they needed to resist. Thyatira was much the same. They made the great mistake of tolerating the evil woman Jezebel, who was leading people into sin. Sardis was dead, her deeds were not complete. She had lost the gospel truth and needed to reclaim in. The church at Philadelphia was small and could only do a few things for the Lord, they only had a little strength. They had enemies who taunted them but they held on to the truth. They needed to continue to do that. The church in Laodicea was lukewarm and was in a wretched condition—they were proud, self-sufficient and totally deluded about their true condition. They were told that they needed to repent, to do the things they did at first, to resist temptation, to be brave in the face of persecution, to remain faithful to Jesus and the truth of the gospel. They were to 'overcome' the temptations. William Hendriksen says, (p. 78)

"The conqueror is the man who fights against sin, the devil, and his whole dominion and in his love for Christ perseveres unto the very end."

Jesus wants His church to be victorious.

He wants His church to conquer all opposition. The gates of hell are not to prevail against His church. This is a dark world. It's full and sin and evil. It's controlled by Satan. But it doesn't belong to Satan. It belongs to Jesus Christ. Jesus is going forth and conquering. I haven't done a lot of study on it yet, but my current understanding is that Jesus is the rider on the white horse that is pictured in Revelation 6:2, that is shown after Jesus opens the first seal. We read,

"I looked, and there before me was a white horse!
Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown,
and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest."

Jesus is redeeming all things. He is going to save His people and defeat all His enemies. He is going to establish a new heavens and a new earth, wherein will dwell righteousness.

You are in His army. Jesus has redeemed you. He came to die for us and set us free from the bondage of sin. He died and rose again to make us slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18). We are to love others like Jesus loved us. We are to live so that others see Christ living in us. As we witness for Jesus we are to shine like stars in the universe (Philippians 2:15-16). As we live we are to be pure and holy like He is pure and holy.

Thus, if you look at all the commands to conquer that we see in the messages to the seven churches, it's clear that Jesus wants you to be a success in Christian living. He doesn't want His people to fail. He wants His church to go forth valiantly. He wants us to go for victoriously, being part of His great victory. He doesn't want us having failure after failure.

One of my earliest memories about riding in a car has to do with my family on our way home from a visit to the country. What was noteworthy about the trip was that the front passenger side wheel of the car came right off as we were driving along. I still have a picture in my mind of the wheel going along by itself down into a ditch and into a field. I don't know how the wheel ever came off but I guess the nuts weren't tight enough or something. Anyway, my dad put it back on and we started on our way again. Thinking back on it I'm not sure how he fixed it. He must have lost the nuts from the tire when it came off. He must have taken a nut each from the other three tires and put them on the tire that came off. But whatever he did didn't fix the problem. As I remember it, the tire came off two more times. But I could be wrong about that. Perhaps the second and third times it just started to wobble and my dad had to stop to tighten the nuts. What a strange memory. It was so strange that a few years ago I asked my mom if it had really happened. She said, "Oh, yeah!" and she expressed some frustration about the whole episode. My dad should have fixed problem correctly or got a tow truck. Fooling around like he did just set up failure after failure.

The point is that you shouldn't let your Christian life be like that. But isn't that what we often do? We lose a wheel and rather than waking up and fixing the problem correctly, we try to fix it with duct tape. We set ourselves up for more failure.

What problem are you having with your Christian life? What are you doing about it? Are you ignoring the problem? That's really going to work!! I had a friend whose mother was diagnosed with cancer. They found the cancer too late, it had spread and she died from it. My friend told me later that his mother had found a lump on her body a very long time before she was diagnosed—but she was afraid it was cancer and so she just ignored it. She didn't go to a doctor or anything. If she had gone to a doctor right away she might have been able to be cured.

Christians, Jesus wants you to successfully fight against temptation, against error, against the things in your life that are keeping you from serving Him better. Rather than going from failure to failure, you are to go from victory to victory—you are to overcome, conquer.

We can do it. Jesus is our example and strength. In John 16:33 He said,

"In this world you will have trouble.
But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Because He has overcome, we can overcome. 2 Peter 1:3–4 says,

"His divine power has given us
everything we need for life and godliness
through our knowledge of him
who called us by his own glory and goodness.
Through these he has given us
his very great and precious promises,
so that through them
you may participate in the divine nature
and escape the corruption
in the world caused by evil desires."

The second thing I want you to see from our text is that

these promises were given to those who overcome.

As we read in Revelation 21:7,

"He who overcomes will inherit all this,
and I will be his God and he will be my son."

The implication is that if you don't overcome, you won't be a partaker of the promises.

But someone might object and say,

"What you're saying sounds an awful lot like a works salvation, that we get into heaven by working for it, by earning it. I thought salvation was by grace, apart from the works of the law."

And that is true. It does sound a lot like a salvation by works. But it's not. We are not saved by our works. Our works don't enter into our justification. As the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16,

"know that a man is not justified by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Christ.
So we, too, have put our faith
in Christ Jesus that we may be
justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law,
because by observing the law no one will be justified."

Romans 3:20 teaches the same truth. It says,

"no one will be declared righteous
in his sight by observing the law;
rather, through the law we become conscious of sin."

Salvation is all of grace. It is a free gift. Ephesians 2:8–9 says,

"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God— not by works,
so that no one can boast."

So this does not mean that we are saved by works. We are not. We are saved by Jesus, by His work on our behalf. He died in our place. He kept the law perfectly—His righteousness is given to us. He has done it all. He gives us salvation as a free gift.

Indeed, our good works essentially come from God. As we read in Ephesians 2:10,

"For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Rather than making us proud, our works, our overcoming should help us rejoice in Jesus because He is the One who enables us to work.

So our works do not really earn us the promises that are contained at the end of each letter. As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10–11,

"by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.
No, I worked harder than all of them
—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

Even our works are of grace. So the promises that relate to our overcoming are about grace as well. Here, Jesus says that to him who overcomes, He will,

"give to eat from the tree of life…"

That's grace. To him who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. That's grace. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna. Grace again. To him who overcomes I will give authority over the nations. More grace. Him who overcomes will be dressed in white and Jesus will never blot their name from the book of life. That's grace. To him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Grace again. To him who overcomes I will give the right to sit with me on my throne. Again, grace.

But if it's all of grace, why does Jesus link the promises in each of the seven churches, to 'him who overcomes'?

There are at least two reasons.

First of all, the promises are given to us this way

so that we can evaluate ourselves to see if we are in the faith.

Am I really in the faith? Am I really a Christian? How can you tell? Of course the inward testimony of the Spirit is essential here. (Romans 8:16) Yet there are other things in your life that help you tell that you belong to Jesus or not. For example, 1 John 3:14 says,

"We know that we have passed from death to life,
because we love our brothers."

Do you love other Christians? If you don't, you're not a Christian. As 1 John 4:8 says,

"Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love."

Thus, you, like the church at Ephesus are to ask yourself these hard questions. Do you love other people? Do you forgive them when they sin against you? Do you pray that God would bless your enemies?

Or consider your love for Jesus. How much do you love Him? Do you take seriously what He said in Luke 14:26,

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate
his father and mother, his wife and children,
his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—
he cannot be my disciple."

Do you love Jesus like that? Or do you have other loves that compete with your love for Him? Do you love your children more? Do you love your own life more? If you fall short you need to repent. You need to overcome. You need to greatly improve.

Remember the parable of the Sheep and the Goats? Remember what happened to those who had not worked hard for Jesus? In Matthew 25:41–46 we read,

"Then he will say to those on his left,
'Depart from me, you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,
I needed clothes and you did not clothe me,
I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you
hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Then they will go away to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life."

Are you overcoming? Are you emerging as a victor over the temptations and trials that you face? If you're not, you're fooling yourself about your faith. You need to repent and go to Jesus for salvation.

The second possible reason the promises are given to us this way is

to motivate us to work hard for Jesus.

Rewards are promised to us according to our effort, according to our works. They are incentives. We don't deserve rewards for our work. You'll remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:10

"So you also, when you have done everything you were told
to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants;
we have only done our duty.'"

We don't deserve rewards for our efforts. But, Jesus in His great grace, promises us rewards that are far out of proportion to what we deserve. The promises should be a great incentive for you to give your all for Jesus. Think of the things that are promised here—eating from the tree of life, not being hurt by the second death, eating of the hidden manna, having authority over the nations, being dressed in white, Jesus acknowledging us before His Father and His angels, being made a pillar in the temple of God, sitting with Jesus on His throne—are they not worth putting in great effort? Are they not worth you saying no to temptation and sin?

Lastly, for those who are not Christians. As you are

you're not overcoming and that means that unless you repent and go to Jesus, you will never receive any of the blessings promised.

You will never eat from the tree of life. You will not escape the second death, which is being consigned to the lake of fire. You will not be given authority over nations, Jesus will not acknowledge you before His Father in heaven. You will not sit on Jesus throne with Him. You will receive the opposite of those blessings—you will be cursed, outcast, not able to share in any joy or happiness. You will miss out on the greatest possible blessings.

Only One person can change that. Go to Jesus. As Him to save you. Repent of your sins and go to Him.